Ed Woodward didn’t fulfill the pre-World Cup publicity; Manchester United failed to make the two acquisitions prior to the World Cup that were so widely rumoured. Yet, the club’s executive vice chairman did much to quell significant criticism of his performance in the marketwhen United signed Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera for fees totalling more than £55 million last week.
The two acquisitions will fill significant holes at left-back and in central midfield, although the club’s performance last season suggests a significant gap between United and Premier League champions Manchester City. Indeed, United may well be on the look-out for a new central defender, reserve full-back, tough tackling midfielder and a winger this summer. United’s budget may not stretch that far – so what’s the priority?
The king is dead. Long live the king. Club captain Nemanja Vidić has left Manchester United to join Internazionale after more than eight years and 300 games for the club. United must replace a fine defender, a robust leader on the pitch, and the ambassadorial responsibility off it that goes with being captain.
Under former manager David Moyes it appeared that Wayne Rooney was a shoo-in for the job despite twice previously agitating for a move away from the club. Louis van Gaal may have other ideas, with Robin van Persie, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Jonny Evans, perhaps even Phil Jones, potentially an option. It is van Persie who serves as van Gaal’s captain at national level with Holland; who should do it for United?
David Moyes was rarely in total control during 10 chaotic months in charge at Manchester United. Ryan Giggs, it turns out, very much was. Still, all good things come to an end and the period of rejoicing over the 50-year-old Scot’s dismissal ended on Saturday when Giggs led United out at Old Trafford to rapturous applause. “The end of an error,” said the banner. The beginning of a new era.
However much Old Trafford enjoyed Giggs’ managerial bow it appears unlikely that the 40-year-old winger, who is still on the playing staff until June, will be offered the job permanently. At least not unless four positive results in the next two weeks increases the popular clamour for a decision in Giggs’ favour to fever pitch.
Instead, Dutch veteran Louis van Gaal is the bookmakers’ favourite to land the job, with informal talks having already taken place between the parties. Other potential appointees include Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone, Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancellotti, and Juventus’ Antonio Conte. There is little chance that Jose Mourinho, rejected by United’s board last spring, will head north this time around, while Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have seemingly ruled themselves out of contention.
Manchester United’s 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool on Sunday was the 12th in all competitions this season under new manager David Moyes. There have been 10 defeats in the Premier League alone, leaving United on just 48 points – some 16 behind the same stage last season.
It is a run that leaves United out of the FA and Capital One cups, seventh in the Premier League, with little prospect of claiming a Champions League spot next season, and on the precipice of exiting European competition to Olympiakos. In short it t has been a season of almost unmitigated disaster.
Worse, United’s style of play has deteriorated to such an extent that Moyes’ side is almost entirely predictable – from team selection, to a succession of aimless crosses delivered without variety. It is probably the most turgid brand of United football since the late 1970s, with little blueprint for a return to success evident.
Yet, there have been positives, not least Adnan Januzaj’s introduction to the first team, while playmaker Juan Mata should become a world-class addition to United’s midfield. Moreover, this remains Sir Alex Ferguson’s team – and an ageing one at that. Supporters of the new manager maintain that Moyes needs time to build a side in his own image.
Moyes also retains significant support, both in the dressing room and in the boardroom. Ed Woodward, Bobby Charlton, Ferguson and the Glazer family are reportedly unwilling to countenance dismissing the 50-year-old Scot.
But the court of public opinion still counts, and United supporters will dictate the atmosphere in which Moyes operates, if not create pressure for change.
Safe Standing could come to Old Trafford, with Manchester United reportedly exploring a ‘rail seat’ trial according to fanzine Red News. Rail seats are dual-mode seats that can either be used as a traditional seat, or locked in an upright position with a bar in place to safely support standing fans.
The technology is widely used in Germany, where standing is legal, while Bristol City have recently installed them at Ashton Gate. In the Bundesliga clubs use rail seats both to increase capacity, boost atmosphere during domestic games, and offer supporters reasonably priced tickets.
However, legislation in the UK currently demands one seat per fan in the Premier League, with traditional standing only permitted in the lower leagues and sports other than football. It is likely a change in legislation would be required to allow safe standing in the Premier League, with up to eight Premier League clubs believed to be supportive of the change according to the Daily Mail.
UEFA does not permit standing of any kind in its competitions, meaning stadia such as Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion lock the seats up for Bundesliga matches and down for the Champions League.
The potential increase in capacity in ‘seat up’ mode depends on the ratio of standing fans to seats, with any Old Trafford trial thought likely to begin at 1:1. Some stadia, such as Bayer Leverkusen’s BayArena, operates safe standing with two fans to each installed seat. The Westfalenstadion provides standing accommodation for 27,000 fans.
However, the cost is not insignificant, with rail seats costing up to 60 per cent more per seat to install than the traditional variety. Clubs converting blocks not ordinarily due for maintenance will face a significant additional capex bill, although installations costs could be offset by a higher capacity. Whether the Glazer family is prepared to push for rail seats, fund installation and lower prices is an open and relevant question.
And even if the cost and legislative issues are resolved there is still the emotive issue of standing in England; rail seats may have little do to with the terraces of old, but memories of the Hillsborough disaster remain fresh.
Time, says David Moyes, is crucial to completing a “transitional period” in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era. Moyes start to life at Manchester United has perhaps been tougher than anybody expected, with the Reds losing five of 15 matches in the Premier League to date. Indeed, play the season forward from here and United’s 22 points will translate into just 56 by the season’s end – leaving the Reds somewhere around 8th and out of the European places altogether.
United’s season will surely not be that cataclysmic, but the numbers don’t lie and the Reds will find it almost impossible to win the Premier League from here, despite Moyes’ claims to the contrary after defeat to Newcastle United on Saturday.
In a competitive league it might take less than the 89 points that secured the Premier League over the past two seasons. But should, say, 82 secure the title come May, United will still need a record that reads 19 wins, two draws and just two defeats before the campaign’s end.
In fact fourth place and a Champions League spot might be tough this season – 50 further points requires Moyes’s side to secure around 16 wins, four draws, and just two further loses. To place this in context, over the past decade it has taken 73, 69, 68, 70, 72, 76, 68, 67, 61, and 60 points to secure fourth, with a lower total coming when a runaway winner has taken the league. In other words, it is likely that United will need in excess of 68 points to claim a Champions League place next season.
This begs a question – what is success and failure for David Moyes, and how long should he get for either to play out?
After all, few fans disagree that Moyes deserves time, but there is little relevance in the now frequent comparison to the time it took for Sir Alex Ferguson to achieve success at United – six long years to secure the title. Ferguson took over an under-achieving squad that hadn’t secured the league title in two decades. Moyes, however, secured a job at the Premier League title champions – a club that now boasts the third highest revenue of any club on the planet.
It has been a frustrating summer for those Manchester United supporters expecting the club to build from a position of strength. After all, local rival Manchester City has invested some £100 million on four players this summer; a statement of intent in the most obvious, if crass, terms. Chelsea has spent too, while even Arsenal bid more than £30 million for Liverpool’s striker racist Luis Suárez.
By contrast United’s contribution to world economic output this summer has been a modest £1.5 million spent on Uruguayan under-20 defender Guillermo Varela.
True, the club has seemingly chased several targets this summer – Thiago Alcântara, Cesc Fàbregas, and if rumour is to be believed, Gareth Bale and Luka Modrić. United even made an official bid for Fàbregas, with David Moyes confirming the £26 million bid on Thursday, although at a laughably low figure for a player of the Spaniard’s class.
Meanwhile, rumours of a bid for former Red Cristiano Ronaldo persist, however unlikely. Indeed, executive vice chairman Edward Woodward insists that United’s transfer budget this summer is effectively unlimited, with the club ‘prepared to pay £60 or £70 million on a player’. But do you believe the new chief exec will make good on the promise and bring in major signings this summer?
“Ferguson and United’s hierarchy had anticipated a smooth transition behind the scenes following the 71-year-old’s retirement,” said Mark Ogden the Telegraph’s Manchester correspondent on Thursday. Yet, David Moyes introduction to the Manchester United hot-seat has been anything but smooth, with Ferguson, his brother Martin, the chief scout, and three senior coaches leaving the club this summer.
In addition to Moyes, the Scot’s Everton assistant Steve Round is set to join United, while Toffees veteran Jimmy Lumsden, goalkeeping coach Chris Woods and scout Robbie Cooke could yet join the Reds before the new season starts in August. Meanwhile, former United defender Phil Neville may also be seen at Carrington next season.
The rapid-fire changes impose Moyes’ will on the United coaching set-up, potentially reducing the risk of Ferguson’s long-shadow inhibiting the new man’s work. But does the significant disruption also carry a risk? After all, in losing Ferguson United is now devoid of 26 years of experience. His key lieutenants Mike Phelan, Rene Meulenstein and Eric Steele have been part of 28 United campaigns in aggregate.
Despite Manchester City’s victory at Old Trafford on Monday night it will still take something of a shocking slump for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side not to take the Premier League crown this season. Indeed, with the campaign winding down, it has by any count been a “successful” year. After last season’s disappointment, the Blue half of Manchester is now firmly in its box.
Yet, there have been huge disappointments too. Defeat to Chelsea on both Carling and FA Cups stings, while Sir Alex’ side has seemingly not yet recovered from Real Madrid’s victory in the Champions League.
The campaign’s narrative has also turned – from boisterous attacking flair in the autumn, to a far more conservative outlook post-Christmas. Neither do the stats lie: United is just a single point better off than at this stage last season, while Ferguson’s team has scored less and conceded more in the Premier League.
So, with the season almost over, do you consider it to have been a success?
With Manchester United top of the Premier League, through to the knock-out stage in Europe and into the FA Cup Fourth Round, Sir Alex Ferguson believes his side could seal trio of trophies this season. Mirroring the 1999 ‘treble’, says Ferguson, is possible due to the depth of resources now available at Old Trafford.
“We want to be involved in everything. We’ve got all three trophies to go for – and we’ve got the squad to do it,” said Sir Alex Ferguson on Saturday.
“It’s absolutely brilliant for everyone connected with Manchester United. We have got the excitement of going to Real Madrid in the Champions League and them coming here. We’ve got Fulham in the FA Cup as well after winning our replay against West Ham. And if you go back to the year we won the Treble, we had a Cup replay against Chelsea and another one against Arsenal.
“The squad is looking very strong at the moment with players coming back in. It’s a period of the season that could be crucial to us if we can keep our momentum going. These are big opportunities for us – and we don’t want to miss them.”
Certainly, Ferguson’s team is ahead of many pundits’ expectations after failing to secure any silverware last season. Ignominiously defeated in Europe, usurped domestically by Manchester City and knocked out of the FA Cup by Liverpool, 2011/12 is a season many supporters would like to forget.
But could this season match United’s greatest ever with three trophies heading back to Old Trafford in May?